Sharma Shields

Sharma Shields holds an MFA from the University of Montana. She is the author of the short story collection Favorite Monster, winner of the 2011 Autumn House Fiction Prize, and her work has appeared in such literary journals as Kenyon Review and Iowa Review and has garnered numerous awards, including the Tim McGinnis Award for Humor. Shields has worked in independent bookstores and public libraries throughout Washington State and now lives in Spokane with her husband and children.

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Q & A

Where are you from?
Born and raised in Spokane, Washington.

Who are your favorite writers?
Shirley Jackson, Hilary Mantel, Lydia Davis, Chris Ware, James Joyce, Margaret Atwood, Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, Emily Bronte, Kazuo Ishiguro, Emily Dickinson, Alice Munro, Laura Read, Samuel Beckett, Michael Earl Craig.

Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Mythology, Dubliners, The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, Wuthering Heights, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Rebecca, Invitation to a Beheading, The Emigrants, The Haunting of Hill House, Pastoralia, Pieces for the Left Hand, Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth, Frankenstein, House of Mirth, Geek Love, No One Belongs Here More Than You, Wide Sargasso Sea, The Remains of the Day, Tales of the Unexpected, War and Peace, Housekeeping.

What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Hiking and swimming in the Inland Northwest. Watching old movies (like Double Indemnity/All About Eve/North by Northwest) or Portlandia episodes or Project Runway reruns. Streaming KEXP and keeping up with new music. Supporting our public libraries. Slowly paging through home-improvement magazines. Making elaborate kale stir-fries. Building towers and painting with my children. Being outdoors with my children. Chugging Pellegrino (I quit drinking alcohol over a year ago). Enjoying the rare date-night with my husband, who I like more than anyone else in the world. Taking long summer trips to Lake Pend Oreille.

What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
My parents have always given my brother and I complete freedom. Freedom of what to read, of what to think, of what to do with our lives, of where to wander. It’s not exactly a piece of advice, but it’s something I hope to provide for my own children, as scary and open and lonely as freedom can sometimes be. I’m hoping they’ll one day find their own happiness within that vastness.

What is your favorite quote?
I don’t have a favorite quote per say, but here are a few that really rang true for me:"Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes, Literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet, says Literature. But unlike other systems of knowing, Literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another; rather, it teaches us to abide with the fact that, in their own way, all things are true, and helps us, in the face of this terrifying knowledge, to continually push ourselves in the direction of Open the Hell Up."—George Saunders

"There's a level in which all of us are not adequate parents because the job of parenting is inherently unmasterable."—J. Robert Lennon, discussing his book, Familiar.

"…hating where you’re from is just another form of self-loathing." —Jess Walter

What is the question most commonly asked by your readers?  What is the answer?
I’m frequently asked about my fiction’s weirdness. "But you look so normal!" is a frequent exclamation I hear regarding my work. "Where does your weirdness come from?" It’s a hard question to answer. I’m pretty sure I was always a little weird. My guess is that everybody is, and maybe some of us are more tuned into the weirdness and want to explore it. I like how the weirdness in my work can be surprising, funny, dark, and metaphorical. I have fun writing that weirdness, and I want people to have fun reading it.

I’m striving for reality in my work, too, especially an emotional reality. The weirdness of certain elements – the appearance of a unicorn, say, or the presence of a character who may or may not be Sasquatch – serves to sharpen this emotional realism. I hope readers identify with characters in the novel and in my stories, and not just hold them at arm’s length.

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, Favorite Monster, was the result of several short stories I’d written and published in a variety of literary journals. I realized one evening that they all had a theme of monstrosity running through them, even in the stories with no "literal" monsters. Indeed, it was the humans in the stories who behaved most monstrously. I wrote up a few additional stories to tie up the theme and submitted them to various competitions. The manuscript was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor and the New American Press Awards, and after removing, adding in, and tweaking a few more stories it won the Autumn House Fiction Prize. I was so excited that Stewart O’Nan loved the stories. It was an honor to fly to Pittsburgh and share a beer with him (one of my last beers, in fact, before I quit drinking, and one I’ll definitely savor). Both he and his wife were really cool people, and I really admire his affection for his hometown.

Where do you write?
I usually write in one of the libraries close to my house: the Moran Prairie Library, a branch of the Spokane County Library District; or the South Hill Library, a branch of the Spokane Public Libraries. We’re lucky in Spokane to have two such great library districts supporting our communities. And the people, fortunately, love them and support them in return.

I’m fortunately a writer who can write anywhere, anytime. I have a hyper-focus that allows me to tune almost anything out, with the exception of my children, who love to crawl on my lap and type on the keys as I work. So long as I have a block of time away from them, I’m able to produce new work and edit the old. Hiring a babysitter has been absolutely key for me. We’ve made it a priority in our budget, even when floundering financially, to hire someone (currently my amazing sister-in-law, Astrid), and for that I’m grateful.


by the author

The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac

Sharma Shields
Holt Paperbacks

A dark, fantastical, multi-generational tale about a family whose patriarch is consumed by the hunt for the mythical, elusive sasquatch he encountered in his...

Available In:

Available 1/27/2015